“In this unusual alert to species depletion, Sargent's heartfelt concerns for the horseshoe crab illustrate the human side of scientific inquiry.”—KLIATT
Scientists, entrepreneurs, and environmentalists collide in a battle over the horseshoe crab and the lucrative biotech industry based on its blood.
Surviving almost unmolested for 300 million years, the horseshoe crab is now the object of an intense legal and ethical struggle involving marine biologists, environmentalists, US government officials, biotechnologists, and international corporations. The source of this friction is the discovery 25 years ago that the blood of these ancient creatures serves as the basis for the most reliable test for the deadly and ubiquitous gram-negative bacteria. These bacteria are responsible for life-threatening diseases like menengitis, typhoid, E. coli, Legionnaire’s Disease and toxic shock syndrome. Because every drug certified by the FDA must be tested using the horseshoe crab derivative known as Limulus lysate, a multimillion dollar industry has emerged involving the license to “bleed” horseshoe crabs and the rights to their breeding grounds.
Since his youthful fascination with these ancient creatures, William Sargent has spent much of his life observing, studying, and collecting horseshoe crabs. As a result, he presents a thoroughly accessible insider’s guide to the discovery of the lysate test, the exploitation of the crabs at the hands of multinational pharmaceutical conglomerates, local fishing interests, and the legal and governmental wrangling over the creatures’ ultimate fate. In the end, the story of the horseshoe crab is a sobering reflection on the unintended consequences of scientific progress and the danger of self-regulated industries controlling a limited natural resource.
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Reviews / Endorsements
"A popular interest book about how a 300 million year old organism became essential to the modern pharmaceutical industry. Sargent traces the discovery of horseshoe crab blood as the perfect in-vitro test for gram-negative bacteria through the development of a multi-million dollar business. He recounts the battles between multinational pharmaceutical companies to "bleed" enough crabs for Limulus lysate and the demand for crabs by the bait fishery. Regulation of the fishery by individual states complicates the issue of preserving this natural resource."
“[M]akes for fascinating reading . . . Crab Wars offers a compact introduction to the horseshoe crab and the controversy it has recently engendered.”—Journal of the History of Biology
"Sargent...has crafted a surprisingly engaging tale ... Crab Wars makes for a helpful — and entertaining — case study." —nationaljournal.com
“Here's a species older than time, a species key to the great migrations transecting our planet--and in the space of a few years our short-term interests have brought it close to ruin. It's a powerful metaphor (one wishes it were only a metaphor) and its tale is told with enormous care and balance. And with just the faintest hint of optimism at the end.”—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
“Not only a wonderful and important story, engagingly written, but a great detective piece, at the interface of biology and politics. It's destined to be a classic.”—Bernd Heinrich, Professor of Biology, University of Vermont
WILLIAM SARGENT is a consultant for the NOVA Science Series and has written seven books about science and the environment, including A Year in the Notch: Exploring the Natural History of the White Mountains (UPNE, 2001) and Storm Surge: A Coastal Village Battles the Rising Atlantic (1995). Formerly Director of the Baltimore Aquarium and a research assistant at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, he has taught at The Briarwood Center for Marine Biology and at Harvard University.